Delaware lawmaker suggests mask opponents kill themselves

DOVER, Del. (AP) — House leaders in Delaware on Friday chastised a fellow Democrat who suggested in an online discussion that those who don’t support mask wearing amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases but do support gun rights should kill themselves with their guns.

House leaders gave no indication, however, that they want to pursue formal disciplinary action against Rep. John Kowalko. Kowalko made the comment in a post following the Texas school shooting but later deleted his Facebook comments and apologized.

Kowalko, a Newark Democrat who once described himself as “your textbook liberal, progressive Dem,” made the offensive comment earlier this week in an online back-and-forth with a conservative commenter over whether people should wear masks.

Kowalko, who has a history of making inflammatory statements, later posted the apology for “remarks that question the sincerity and intentions of those individuals who feel that their personal rights are being abrogated or threatened.”

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and Majority Whip Larry Mitchell said in a joint statement released Friday that Kowalko’s comments were “offensive and indefensible.”

“We understand the circumstances surrounding his remarks were tense — the ongoing issue of people arguing against wearing masks to protect against COVID, and questions about gun rights — but intimating violence and self-harm against another person is not conduct that should be tolerated,” the statement read.

“We’re grateful he deleted the comments and apologized, but this behavior should not be normalized,” the statement added. “Lastly, suicide is something we take very seriously and should never be encouraged, even in a joking manner.”

Kowalko’s online comments were directed at Chris Rowe, who resigned as chairman of the New Castle County Republican Party in 2020 after using a derogatory term for homosexuals in a Facebook post.

In 2020, Kowalko drew fire for a profane email targeting lawmakers and others who supported minimum wage legislation that would allow employers to pay a lower wage to new hires and to young people. At a local school board meeting in 2015, Kowalko referred to state education officials and to then-Gov. Jack Markell, the nation’s only Jewish governor at the time, by what is widely considered to be an anti-Semitic slur. Kowalko apologized in both those instances.

Kowalko has been a state representative since 2006. Now 76, he announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election.